Putting jail in Mott Haven was easy: Councilwoman Ayala

Mayor selects Mott Haven tow yard for borough’s new jail
Community News Group/ Alex Mitchell

When it came time to determine the final location of the new Bronx jail, the mayor turned to sympathic south Bronx council member Diana Ayala for her support.

Since February, two potential locations for the Bronx jail had been publicly identified – the NYPD tow pound on East 141st Street and Concord Avenue in Mott Haven and a vacant lot adjacent to the Bronx Criminal Court and Hall of Justice Complex on East 161st Street.

While those two spots were ‘frontrunners’, four other sites had also been considered: two vacant properties in close proximity to the Bronx Criminal Court, the parking lot of the Vernon C. Bain jail barge in Hunts Point and the Bronx Psychiatric Center on Waters Place.

Sources explained that selecting a site had to satisfy three criteria: the land must be city controlled; in close proximity to both the Bronx Courthouse; and convenient to mass transit.

Approval of the ‘preferred’ location adjacent to the Hall of Justice was contingent on obtaining two abutting lots which are owned by the Dormitory Authority of the State of New York, one of two factors that doomed this site.

Besides overcoming the turbulent relationship between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo, there was another roadblock.

A land transfer from the state to the city requires the approval of the district’s councilmember, which is Vanessa Gibson, who has already said she would not approve the transfer.

Gibson organized a protest on Thursday, May 10 outside of the courthouse announcing her resounding opposition to the proposed jail coming to her district.

“In a perfect world … it does make sense to put the jail next to the court, the challenge is we don’t have a perfect world,” said Gibson. “If it were not for the schools, libraries and the residents that live around here, to me it would be more of a positive conversation to have, but students of the Bronx School of Law, Government, and Justice would go to class in the shadow of a jail and that is not a positive conversation,” she added.

That kind of gridlock shifted the conversation more towards the Mott Haven tow pound, which finally was given a ‘green light’ to proceed from Ayala.

“It wasn’t the hardest decision I ever made,” Ayalya said. The councilwoman went on to explain how her own brother fell victim to the criminal justice system, enduring mistreatment at both the Spofford Juvenile Detention Center and then at Rikers Island, bringing hardship to herself as well as family. “Nobody wants a jail in their community, but I think that it’s the right thing to do,” she added.